This reporter’s notebook was written by Abdulai Bah, a producer at People’s Production House in New York.
When I first heard that immigrants throughout the United States were using conference call technology as a ‘radio’ platform to host debates and share news about what was happening back home, I didn’t take it seriously. Since learning about free conference call services, I only thought to use them for work meetings or family conversations. I couldn’t imagine anyone producing a radio show using this “defined” and “limited” service. But some of my friends kept urging me to call in and listen to what community members were discussing, what issues and concerns they were debating and distributing using this unique yet accessible medium.
I finally gave in and made the call. On the line, I heard the host of the conference call, along with other participants, ask questions of the guests. And the guests responded, presenting their comments in the back-and-forth exchange of a familiar format: the talk show. This had all the trappings of a radio program: a host, guests, and listeners but it wasn’t radio as I knew it.
Listen to Abdulai Bah talk about Free Conference Call ‘Radio’ in the Fi2W podcast:
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“Think of it as a platform serving the needs of the community,” said Mamadou Barry, a Guinean immigrant based in Columbus, Ohio. Mamadou and I met last year when he was visiting New York City. After finding out that I was a radio producer, Mamadou was quick to introduce me to his conference call radio show, GuineeView. Every weekend, Mamadou and his friends organize what he calls “interactive radio shows” using free conference call services.
There are hundreds of other African immigrants like Mamadou across the country who now use free conference call services to host debates, share news stories, educate and engage the members of their community.
In the Guinean community of New York City, Frequence Ganndal which translates from Fulani (one of the many dialects spoken in Guinea) as “Knowledge Frequency,” has been leading the way. Ganndal offers news in both French and Fulani and hosts a variety of shows including religious programming.
Within other immigrant communities from French speaking countries across West Africa, The Jacques Roger Show remains a popular program, broadcasting mostly in French and covering issues pertaining to countries from Senegal to Burkina Faso. Its founder, Jacques Roger, is originally from the Ivory Coast and regularly hosts debates between political figures from the numerous countries within the region.
Mamadou, like many other hosts, doesn’t have a journalism background. But he strongly believes what his group brings to the African community is positive. “People want us to broadcast nonstop, and they want more shows.” GuineeView broadcasts a few days a week, several hours a day. Archives of the different shows are posted on their website.
I have met many people, including a friend of mine, who get most of their news from conference call radio stations. They find it convenient to dial from their cellphones and hear news in a language they are more proficient and comfortable with. In addition to news, community members like the opportunity to actively participate in political and social debates about their country.
In the course of my research on conference call radio, I visited several African restaurants and asked people their thoughts about these stations. Most people reported they enjoy listening to them although some raised concerns about the sometimes polarizing debates that emerge. For instance, in the Guinean community, tension has been high between opposition members and supporters of the current government. This translates into the debates that are being organized by the various stations. The host or moderator often has to step in and calm the passion of the participants.
When asked about what the future holds for these stations, Mamadou and the rest of the people I spoke to said they want to expand their reach beyond the African community. To do so, Mamadou thinks more people from different communities need to be involved.
A step towards the effort for broader distribution may be evident in the partnership agreement recently signed between Frequence Ganndal and AudioNow, a company that streams live radio to phones and whose customers include the BBC, Radio France International, Voice of America and ESPN. So listeners of Ganndal can now hear their favorite show wherever they may be calling from around the world.
Dial the following numbers to hear a sampling of African Conference Call ‘Radio:’
GuineeView: Dial 712-432-0075, Code: 806079#
The Jacques Roger Show: Dial 218-862-7200, Code: 813641#
Media D’Afrique: Dial 712-432-0075, Code: 166925#
Radio Mandingue: Dial 712-432-0075, Code 407875#
Frequence Ganndal: Dial 712.432.3226
Fi2W podcasts are supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundationwith additional support from the Mertz Gilmore Foundation and the Sirus Fund, and are produced in association with the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and CUNY-TV.